Tremors: Shrieker Island (2020)
Sometimes I write reviews for you, the people.
Sometimes I write reviews for Katie, to torture me.
Sometimes I write reviews for me, to get more of an audience to watch a movie that I think is under-loved.
And then sometimes, just sometimes, I will write a review for me and only me. I don’t expect anyone else to read this. I don’t want anyone else to read this. No one asked for this movie. No one asked for this review.
Turn back all ye who enter.
Because Tremors: Shrieker Island (2020) is finally here. And you’re damn right I’ll review it.
Tremors is an interesting series. With one classic, cinema release movie, six straight-to-DVD movies of varying degrees of quality, a pretty good TV show and an unrelated reportedly amazing pilot for a reboot TV show over the last 30 years, it’s a pretty big franchise that only about 20 people care about.
I am one of those 20.
The first three movies slowly introduced the monsters' life cycle. It starts with an incredibly intelligent worm, the Graboid, which appears in Tremors (1990). The Graboid then gives birth to the “Jurassic-Park-just-came-out-let’s-capitalise-on-that” proto-raptor, the Shrieker, in Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996). 12 to 48 hours after this, the Shrieker molts into pretty much the exact same thing but this time it can fly and has a much sillier name, the Ass Blaster, which features in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2004). The Graboid carries 3-6 (depending on the movie) Shriekers inside it; the Shriekers reproduce exponentially by eating; the Ass Blaster flies further away, laying eggs and thus the cycle continues.
Pictured: Of course I could find this graphic.
Sure, it makes about as much as sense as the Alien franchises “perfect-lifeform”, but it makes sense in the world of the movies. Tremors 4: The Legend Continues (2004) was an old Western prequel, and introduced baby Graboids, nicknamed “Dirt Dragons”. It makes sense: the eggs are small, Graboids are very big. They probably start off small, and get big. That’s fine. No Shriekers or Ass Blasters here; it's the old West, they struggled enough dealing with the Graboids.
Then Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015) happened. Now, this was a huge change for Graboids because… well… CGI improved a lot over eleven years… and the life cycle is already complete, so what else can you do? Simple: you introduce a cousin species. It makes sense: all of the movies so far have been set in the American continents, so what if we go to another continent? Now meet the African Ass Blasters, which happen to be accompanied by a few Graboids. Their designs are far more elaborate, and frankly, more grotesque, but they explain it away with some hand-wavey science nonsense. Totally fine and good, and, annoying sidekick aside, a good time.
Pictured: thanks to the power of CGI, Graboids can finally do flips and sh*t.
Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018) is where it all starts falling apart. Back to the American continent, up in the “Canadian Arctic” we have… the African Graboids and Assblasters again… No explanation why. No sign of any Shriekers… Just the exact same design from Africa, here in “Canada”.
Pictured: when you now look this good, who needs continuity?
Now maybe, you could explain this by saying that the film was so clearly shot in South Africa, it’s hard not to laugh whenever they try to say it’s the Arctic, but that’s a bit meta. The other explanation is that the original creators of the first four, Stampede Entertainment, are long gone, and director Don Michael Paul, appears to be at the helm of this new series of movies. I don’t know if the blame can be put squarely on him though, since his first movie was a fun time. There's no denying however, that this one had a lot less care put into it and it shows in both story and production.
Oh, by the way, for some reason, apparently the original Graboids also have a slow, 17-year gestating venom that Burt Gummer (oh yeah, I haven’t mentioned the de facto main character yet) got infected by when he was eaten by one in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001). It’s like the plot of that whole movie, but that movie sucks anyway.
So, if we’re talking canon, Tremors has always tried pretty hard to explain it’s own internal logic when it comes to the monsters. Each subsequent movie introduces a new step in their life cycle, or a new form of evolution, and even though it’s all complete nonsense, they try to at least keep it consistent until 6. Yeah, that whole film literally exists just to introduce you to this world...I know no one is reading this, but just in case someone accidently stumbled into this… sorry…
Now I’m going to go ahead and straight up admit, my biggest disappointment in regards to Tremors: Shrieker Island (2020) comes from the fact that I completely misunderstood the plot synopsis when I first read it. Burt Gummer goes to an island where they hunt Graboids for fun? I stupidly thought that this meant Burt Gummer, survivalist, gun enthusiast and Graboid hunter himself, was gonna be hunted alongside the monsters, and it was essentially the Most Dangerous Game (1932 or 2020 for all you Quibi fans) but with Graboids and Shriekers too.
I was wrong.
In the more predictable plot, it turns out that there are some scientists that are on an island and they find out that there are Graboids there, because it turns out their boss has a side hustle of putting Graboids on an island for rich people to hunt. The scientists then get mad, and hire Burt to save them, because let’s face it, you just can’t control Graboids without “geographic isolation”. Of course, these aren’t regular Graboids; these are genetically enhanced Graboids. So they’re harder and more fun to hunt or something. This means we still have the same African Graboids seen in the last few films, but bigger and maybe smarter.
Pictured: very big Graboid.
Now, I’m not entirely against this, except for the fact that we have so many movies setting up HOW you hunt for Graboids. Burt always goes on about how he’s missing need to know information about these creatures, because he prepares to hunt for one type and it turns out they’re slightly different. The first and second movies (the two that focus most on Graboids) pretty much explicitly tell you that you can’t just kill them with guns. In Tremors (1990), Burt and Heather empty their entire rec room into one and only JUST kill it. And that was the boring old puppet Graboids, not these new sexy CGI Graboids that are doing flips and sh*t. How the hell did these “hunters” think they could hunt them with hand guns, spears, arrows and a few rifles? It’s completely illogical when compared to what has been set up previously! Now sure, these sorts of things might fair better against the titular Shriekers, but they didn’t know they were up against Shriekers. The Shriekers were a surprise to anyone who didn’t see the title, seeming the African Graboids seemed to bypass them and go straight to Ass Blaster.
Pictured: Gonna shoot some arrows into the ground and kill some big worms.
The introduction of the Shriekers back in Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996) was an interesting one because it completely changed the way you fight the creatures. Graboids are smart and methodological. Shriekers are dumb and hungry. They bite hot thing. That all they do. At first the humans thought they were smart because they were eating cars and radio towers, but it turns out that they are just attracted to heat and don’t think outside of that. It was a fun idea to change up the flow. The new high definition Shriekers also need something new, so now they’re super smart pack hunters, recreating scenes from Jurassic Park (1993), something they share in common with the Ass Blasters of Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2014). I know it’s a dumb thing to be annoyed at, but the chaotic stupidity of the Shriekers is what makes them interesting… now that they’re super smart, they’re pretty much smaller, easier to kill Graboids.
Pictured: Jurassic Park (1993) or Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2014). You decide.
So, in this film, they also add that their “Shrieks”, which have always been audibly useless because they don’t have ears, (they just produced heat to attract more Shriekers), are now weaponised, causing pain to anyone who hears them. But only sometimes? Like, the hunters hear them, and label it “communicating” (despite the fact that one of the main things we know is that they can’t hear). Then during other moments, the Shriekers attack and shriek, and suddenly cause debilitating pain. They still eat and reproduce, but not nearly at the rate of the old ones, so are they even as effective? Not really, seeming Napolean Dynamite (2004) can kill them with a chainsaw.
Pictured: Napolean Dynamite (2004) with a chainsaw
Now that’s just monster canon; another quirk of this new series of films is it’s callbacks. Specifically, relative callbacks. The fifth one swung big by introducing Burt’s illegitimate son, Jamie Kennedy. The sixth one introduces Val and Rhonda’s daughter. These are characters, by the way, who haven’t been seen since the first movie, and have inexplicably given birth to a woman with a South African accent. This film however, introduces the mother of Jamie Kennedy and the previous lover of Burt. It doesn’t do anything with this information. It’s just there. It’s not like we clearly all love his ex-wife Heather, especially since she seems to be brought up in every movie, despite only being in the first. Let’s see the English woman who raised Jamie Kennedy! That’s what we need!
Other than ALL of that, it’s a pretty standard Tremors affair. You know, Burt teams up with an annoying sidekick to kill some Graboids, things aren’t as they seem, oh we need to change our plan, and we defeat them. The thing with this though, is that the big threat other than the new Shriekers (who are entirely dispatched of in the previously mentioned chainsaw fight scene with Napolean Dynamite) is a MASSIVE Graboid that apparently has a vendetta against Burt. A vendetta that Burt can feel through the ground. A vendetta that means that… Burt can outrun it… until the plot requires him to be caught by it… so they can do a bad version of the climax of the first film. And not only a bad version of the first film, they literally say, “hey, I’m gonna go do the thing that Val and Earl did at the end of the first film”.
This review is already so long, so let’s keep this short.
Pictured: the most important moment in Tremors history.
It’s a Tremors film. Government = bad. Rich people don’t know what they’re doing. Survivalist Burt Gummer is good. You can never have enough guns.
After the hilarious “Colour grade South Africa to be blue” technical achievements of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018), this movie looks freaking fantastic. I’m not a huge fan of the way the director handles shooting a scene; he attempts to inject action into every scene by doing weird Dutch angles and then edits to the extreme, even when it’s just two people talking in a shop. However, it’s not entirely distracting for a Tremors film. That specific trend was egregious in the last film, so maybe I’m just numb to it now.
Pictured: ah yes, it's blue, Burt is wearing white camo. They must be in Canada
The VFX hasn’t gotten better since 2014, but it also doesn’t need to. Continuity aside, the new Graboids look great and the new Shriekers look awesome. Reminds me of the good old days of Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996) where they clearly had one prerendered animation of a Shrieker that they would use every time one would run at the characters. Now there’s not even any puppet versions of anything, which is sad, but hell, if it looks good, it looks good.
Pictured: Twenty-four years of technical achievement.
My personal favourite moments from the film include scenes of Burt Gummer running. Maybe it’s mean, but Michael Gross has in fact aged since his first appearance in Tremors (1990) when he was a silly side character played by the dad from Family Ties (1982-1989). Now he’s the only returning character, the main character, and 30 years older. Every action scene that requires him to run is shot specifically in slow motion, so you can’t tell how much of an old-man-run he has. Or at least that’s why I think they did that. To me, it just highlighted how much of an old-man-run he has.
Pictured: Just old-man-running from a monster
No hate for Michael Gross though, he’s freaking great in this movie. He brings 110% to movies that absolutely don’t deserve it. Hell, he had a whole social media campaign leading up to Tremors: Shrieker Island (2020) where Burt Gummer announced his run for presidency, plus a few more survivalist videos.
Am I watching this just to avoid watching Love and Monsters (2020)? Maybe. Will I probably be just as disappointed in this as I will be with that? Maybe. But does all of this complaining mean I didn’t have a fun time? Of course not.
I don’t think anyone will say Tremors: Shrieker Island (2020) is their favourite Tremors film. But they definitely won’t say it’s their least favourite. That spot is reserved exclusively for Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018).
Napolean Dynamite (2004) wasn’t bad as the annoying sidekick. Getting rid of Jamie Kennedy was one of the best decisions the series made, because, even though he wasn’t THAT bad in Tremors: Bloodlines (2014), he was one of the worst things in Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018). Which is a hard thing to be, because there are so many contenders for worst thing in that movie. Napolean Dynamite (2004) also really felt like he didn’t have to be in this story. More so than most other annoying sidekicks. Hell, Grady is just the taxi driver who drives the guy who hires Earl in Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996) and he felt more integral to the plot than Napolean Dynamite (2004).
Pictured; Grady didn't even come back twice, but this guy did?
The strenuous connections to the past movies are… well, exactly that: strenuous, but Burt Gummer is always a fun character who will blow the crap out of some monsters.
If anyone cares as much about the canon as I do, you might find it annoying, but maybe watch Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018) first, and wash it down with Tremors: Shrieker Island (2020) and you will really appreciate what you’ve been given.